But don’t you want to be happy? Don’t you owe it to your kids to remember you as happy? Life is supposed to be happy. Maybe you’re depressed. Don’t you want to be happy?
If you’re a widow/er, then you’ve heard the same questions and comments. I know you have. Or, if you’re public about your grief, as I am, you hear it from the general public. Less frequently, possibly, as the years pass. But you hear it. Such comments were more prominent somewhere in the second half of my 3rd year. Apparently, if one is still grieving in the 3rd year, bells of doubt start ringing in the minds of those around you, whispering words like depression complicated grief not moving on not getting on with it medications therapy etc…
I’m embarrassed to admit that, upon hearing these comments (and let’s be honest, it’s thinly veiled criticism because it comes across exactly as it sounds: a judgement, as if I’m doing something wrong), I initially and inevitably ended up defending myself, and trying to explain myself, even as I knew I had no reason to defend myself. But those words made me feel defensive and attacked. So, I defended.
No longer. No. Longer.
Guess what? I’m perfectly content with my legacy. If I were to die right now, this fucking minute, I’d have zero regrets. None. Nada. Zero.
And I owe my kids nothing, because they already have all the Love in the world from me.
I know exactly how my kids will remember me and I know what my kids will remember about me. Whether I die today, or tomorrow or years from now. Our mom was THE most kickass mom ever. She and pop had a Love story for the ages. They sold everything and traveled the country together and remember when we’d call them up we’d ask them where are you now? She nursed him with so much Love through his first cancer and they kept on traveling and when the cancer came back, she did it all again, and bigger. She ensured that all of us had one on one time with him in hospice and she honored and supported us through our own grief, even as she grieved. She bought a trailer after he died and painted it and her car pink and she dressed in pink and she drove all over the entire fucking country, honoring him and their Love and connecting with people everywhere. She was a connector. She inspired people. She was colorful and crazy and she was the Love Warrior and a Fucking Warrior Goddess and she did all that while she was grieving because she loved pop so much and her life felt empty without him and she fucking did it all anyways. She left an example to all of us and to her grandkids about determination and grit and Love. She cried and she laughed and none of it meant anything and all of it meant everything and she lived when she didn’t want to live and she talked to us honestly about the impact of his death on her and she loved hard because Love was all that was left amid the ashes of her life when pop died. She was unapologetic about her grief and her Love and she lived in spite of it and with it. And we are proud of who she was and what she was because she was real and being real was all that mattered. She was a Fucking Warrior Goddess.
No. I have no qualms about the memories I’ll leave behind for my kids, or for anyone else who might remember me.
My epitaph will read Here lies a woman who lived the duality of Love and Grief, who made everything around her shimmer and sparkle with Love, with a shattered heart, and she did it all in pink. She was a Fucking Warrior Goddess.
Of course you’ll always miss your husband…..
It’s the but that you can read into those little dots at the end of that sentence that contain the crux of what the person is really saying.
….don’t hang onto the grief…. ….it’s your decision to be happy or not…. …..if you’re still struggling with grief, maybe you should go on medications….
Add to this whatever you wish.
And what I want to say to those who put those periods at the end of that sentence is…..
Don’t you know that, for me, this is what missing my husband looks like?
Do you know what skin hunger feels like…
Do you know what it feels like to have your world ripped out from underneath you, from around you, from over you…
Do you know what I mean when I say that there is not one damn thing in my life, or life around me, that is the same as it was and that, all by itself, is overwhelming…
How can I explain in any way that is understandable what it is like physically to feel my energy yawning out of my body, into the air, and know that it’s simply lingering there because there is nobody to receive it…
Do you know how confusing it is to be told by so many, professionals and otherwise, that grief is as individual as a fingerprint and there is no timeline….and then feel the judgement that, well, of course there isn’t one but it’s been this long this long this long and you should be finding joy and happiness again….
Do you get that I shared a lifetime of love and marriage with my husband, with shared practical responsibilities, as is normal, and there is a steep learning curve as I strive, as quickly as possible, to know what one half of our marriage knew and now that he’s gone, all of what he knew is gone and I’m doing this at a time when grief fogs my memory…
How do I find the words that express the depth of the sorrow that is in my heart that my beloved husband is dead and my world is empty without him…not because I’m depressed or hanging on in an unhealthy way or anything like that but just, simply, sorrowful and heart heavy, and it’s normal that I feel this way…
What words will help you understand that when my beloved husband died, it wasn’t a simple unweaving and unraveling of a life lived with me but a ripping apart and shredding and now I must weave his death into whatever new life I must I am creating and that it can, that it might, that I expect it to, take a lifetime and that’s okay too…
And all that needs be said in response is….tell me about your beloved husband….tell me a story of him and your love….
And that will always, truly and honestly, be enough and it will feed my hurting soul….
I oftentimes read posts/blogs of people who are grieving who speak about how they feel, after some time has passed, presenting themselves to the world in a way that isn’t real but that they feel is required of them.
In that, they don’t show their grief to the world. For many reasons, of course, but they feel unable to show who they really are. Which I totally understand.
Our world is unforgiving of grief that continues on for more than, say….6 months. Okay, maybe a year, if you find some really empathetic people.
Other than other widow/ers, I mean.
I do get that argument. We have to function, right? Life goes on and we have to return to jobs and parenting and, I don’t know…everything.
And you just can’t be in a fetal position on the floor, or sobbing in your cubicle, or at the lunch table. Or anywhere in public.
What I would argue is that those of us who present The Face to the world aren’t being fake. We really aren’t.
We’re being functional.
It’s all still in there, bubbling right below the surface, humming along our veins as our blood pumps from our hearts to the rest of our bodies. It isn’t that we’re stuffing it down, really. I liken it more to the idea of applying pressure to a wound in an effort to keep the blood from spurting out. We apply pressure to hold down the grief so that we can get our days done, our responsibilities…stuff and such.
We laugh if something is funny, we engage with the people we meet throughout our daytime hours. Because that’s what life is and we’re still alive.
What I’ve found, for me at least, is that I can be what I just described, on any given day. And every bit of it is authentic.
It’s just that, since Chuck died, even while I do all that, I’m also dying inside. Missing him. Wishing him. Wanting him. Sharply feeling his absence. His gone-ness. Feeling empty. Even as I smile and engage with people, the hum in my blood, through my veins, with each pump of my heart, is….he’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone.
I am two people since Chuck died. Here and not here. Smiling outside and crying inside at the same time. Paying attention and hearing you and listening to my own inner conversation at the same time.
Both of these me’s are real and both show up daily.
This may freak out those of you who have never lived in this widow world, but I’m strangely okay with it, in my world of nothing being okay. And honestly, I can handle this dichotomy, because I’m a Gemini.
I’m one person and I’m two people at the same time. I don’t stuff any of the grief down. It’s just that one of the me’s is the functioning out in the world person, and the other one is the me who is….I don’t even know.
But both of these me’s are real in every way.
My fingers lightly grazed your arm,
Hairs tickling sensitive tips.
They slid along your shoulders,
Feeling their breadth and strength.
My hips tucked themselves into yours,
As we slept.
Your arm curled behind your back
To pull me more snugly into you.
Our bodies tucked and curved into one another, one passion filled night after another.
Toes touching as we drifted to sleep. Or pinkie fingers twined together. Hands clasped.
We always touched as we nodded off into dreams. How long ago is forever?
My body moves restlessly through these without you nights,
In this widow life…
Pillows tucked into my own curves,
My hips, my breasts, seeking your body.
My head rests upon your 15-year old pillow.
Will I, at some point, feel the imprint of your head there,
My one arm curls under the pillow, hand stretched out to the side,
As my legs tuck up, as if into yours.
One hand reaches out to the rectangular box covered with images of you alive and healthy,
Pictures with edges curling from time and wear.
So easily could I lift the top and dig my hands inside to free the gray ashes…what remains of you…
Dig my hands into the mix of gray remains and dead flowers,
Spread them upon the cushions where I sleep,
And coat my lonely body, in what remains of you.
But I don’t.
That would be weird. Right?
My other hand comes to rest on a shape that I trace as a triangle. Red white and blue.
A simple triangle.
I see it in my mind’s eye, in the darkness, this triangle that has traveled so many miles with me.
Fingertips slide along the neat edges of the hem along one side. This part is blue.
They glide upwards to the tip and follow it down to find a raised star shape. This part is white.
I spell out s-t-a-r as I brush the shape lightly…
There is the very slight sound of a paper crinkling…a note you gave me in our early years, found after your death and tucked into a fold of the triangle. Sunshine…like a beautiful flower, you always warm my heart. With love always, Sarge.
A small round disc makes a faint outline through the fabric…
A USAF coin, gifted to our son in Basic Training, gifted to me by our son. MSgt Dearing. Recognition. Memory. Honor.
I confess…sometimes my arms pull that triangle into my chest
As I seek elusive slumber,
And my mind drifts back to our nights together, bodies curved into one another.
No worry about the tears blinding my eyes; the dark night has already done that.
No stopping the stitching spasms rocking my heart and soul.
It’s night, and I can let the feels be whatever they may be.
I clutch the colors more tightly to my chest,
Try to soften the tension in my body and let my mind drift, drift, drift…
Back to all of our nights and our days and nights again as our years played one into the other,
And I was loved, and I loved.
My body curls into yours in my dreams…
And I drift….
What I knew instinctively as soon as Chuck died, and what I knew I had to immediately institute with myself and my body language, my behavior, my thinking:
Even though my brain was fogged with devastation.
Grief is isolating.
Do every damn thing you can so that you can’t, you don’t, isolate. Whether you want to or not. Don’t isolate. Therein lies your own living death.
Make yourself visible. You want to disappear. Don’t allow it to happen. Make yourself so visible that people will pay attention and, if you try to disappear, they’ll wonder where you are. This will be your saving grace.
When you walk, don’t allow your chin to drop. Don’t allow your shoulders and posture to sag forward. You want to do this, but don’t. Always make sure your chin is up, your shoulders back.
Write. Write about this grief. Write about this widowhood. Write about the devastation of living without the man you loved more than life. Write, and then write some more. Keep writing. Always write. It…this living, breathing, thing called grief, will putrefy inside of you and become toxic if you don’t write. What you write doesn’t have to make sense. Just write, as if your life depends on it. Because it does.
Be honest with those around you, whatever their response. It may not matter to them, but it will matter to you, both in the long run and the short run. Be raw and honest and real about it. Even if it hurts. Which it will. Even if they judge you. Which they will.
Allow yourself to go into the darkness of this devastation. Yeah, it’s scary to do so, but maybe maybe maybe, somewhere in the darkness, you will find that your other senses will sharpen, and you’ll find your way through this to whatever degree it can be gone through.
None of this is okay and it’s okay to acknowledge that. It sucks and you don’t have to pretty it up for anyone.
However devastating, unbearable, impossible, lonely, soul-shattering this grief, is…and it is…remember remember remember every damn day, every minute of every damn day, every second of every damn minute, the Love that Chuck left behind for you and fucking make it balance as much as you can every nanosecond. Carry the bucket of Love and carry the bucket of grief and know that, even though they slosh over during the day, making a mess, as long as they’re mostly equally filled at the end of the day, then it’s been a manageable day.
I know because I checked.
After waking up in these too early morning hours.
I didn’t check right away, of course.
Because I do what we all do when we’re not supposed to focus on what we don’t have
I try to think of other things.
Staring into the darkness of my tiny space
My gaze landing on the bright blue light of the radio.
That’s no good.
It immediately reminds me of the light in the distance
On the mountain top
Staring at it night after night as I paced the floors of our condo in Cathedral City, after you died.
What was that light?
The harder I strive to not think of you, this life without you….
The more insistent the thoughts become.
So…I stop trying to not think of things…of everything…and just let my mind go.
And the flood is instantaneous.
Words and images and emotions swirl into the whirlpool of my mind and my heart
And my soul aches unbearably
So I reach for my phone and check the days since app and yes…my heart knew what the numbers state. The numbers are almost meaningless, really, because who can define forever?
I put on a mindless TV show and stare at it, hearing nothing. I read a book and the words are meaningless. I eat a muffin and it’s tasteless. I’m not hungry and I’m not eating my feelings…I’m just trying to find something so that I don’t think for a moment… Should I try to sleep again? I have to work in the morning. My body is wired. My mind restless. My heart painful.
Where are you, D? More importantly, why aren’t you here with me, where you belong? How many more nights of this? How many days and months and years?
My body aches for you. My mind wanders to where you and I were, but are no longer.
Distraction works for only so long in this life without you. It really doesn’t work at all, but I have to do life, right? It is required of me, by life, to do life.
So, I do.
But, oh, how untethered I am. This life, as colorful as it looks, is empty because you aren’t here in it, with me. I’m wandering, is all, jabbing at life where I can, trying to find my way, but it feels empty, no matter what I do, and my soul and body knows that something, someone, vital is missing from me.
Will this ever change? Will I ever find something anything that makes me feel that, yes, this is why I’m here still? When will I care again? When will I not wake and stare into the night again? When will I not feel the alone-ness of this life? Will I ever find a sense of peace in my heart and soul again?
I hear all the words that society says about all of this, and I do all that I’m supposed to do and I do it with intent, but in the end…
I stare into the darkness, gazing at that blue light…
And my heart hurts and I miss you I miss you I miss you… My god how I ache for you…
We danced under the moonlit, starlit, skies
You and I
Your right arm around my back, your left hand grasping mine.
We turned and swayed and moved our feet not only to the music from the player
but to the hushed beat of our two hearts.
Under the starlit skies in our backyard.
Everywhere and nowhere
For no reason and every reason
Our bodies moving so well together
Even when it looked like we were walking side by side
We were actually dancing
Because we were so in sync
You, on my right side because you had hearing loss in your right ear
I still keep my right hand free when I walk
Just in case
Maybe….maybe someday I’ll feel your hand take mine again
We moved and swayed together for 24 years
In passion, in motion, in love, in sync
That space on my right side?
There is a gaping emptiness there that is as tangible as your physical presence once was
And my physical body reaches towards that emptiness
Only to find air
And I think it just kind of remains suspended there
Not knowing where to go or how to go, differently
I don’t know how to go, differently.
But I move and I sway sometimes
In my memory
Under moonlit skies I raise my hand to your shoulder and place my right hand in yours
Universes and stars and moonlit darkness gleam as our dance floor
And I spirit dance with you~